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Civilians armed in troubled south

Article published on the 2008-08-22 Latest update 2008-08-22 12:57 TU

Protests in Manila against government's autonomy offer to Muslim separatists(Photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES)

Protests in Manila against government's autonomy offer to Muslim separatists
(Photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES)

Civilians and local militias in the Philippines have started taking up arms after two weeks of unrest which has left dozens dead. Rights organisation Amnesty International says political leaders on Mindanao island have been giving weapons to groups, and some civilians have been arming themselves.

In the city of Iligan in the southern Philippines, Amnesty International reports that about 300 licenced gun owners, politicians and local government officials have set up what it describes as a civilian militia.

The government in Manila has given the green light to these moves, it seems as the Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said that civilian volunteer organisations, or CVOs, would be deputised to help the police maintain the peace in the troubled parts of the southern Philippines.

The armed conflict in Mindanao flared after the Supreme Court suspended a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), two weeks ago.

The government has since announced it will scrap the agreement, which would have seen the extension of an autonomous Muslim region in the south, after objections lodged by local Christian leaders, who oppose the deal.

For the past fortnight, MILF rebels have attacked towns and villages throughout North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte provinces, killing civilians, burning and looting homes, farms and businesses.

Amnesty warned that arming civilians could worsen the already tense situation in Mindanao.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director, says however that the civilians must have adequate protection if their lives and livelihoods are at risk.